Aaron and I had straightened out eventually during the night, had entered that eye of the hurricane where lucidity lies just this side of a brutal, restless sleep. When he asked me where I was going, I didn't tell him about the money, just said I'd gotten something from the old man and that I was going looking for him. Aaron knew as much as I did about my Dad -- nothing. Mom had shunted off every question I ever raised about him and his family; if I persisted or got indignant, she would break down, and I gave up. After a while I stopped trying.
When I was a kid, of course, I imagined that he was a spy or -- better yet -- an astronaut who was serving in a top-secret NASA mission and was living in a satellite that we weren't being told about. In Missoula I had some second-hand brushes with the underbelly of the country--Aaron and I frequented bars where people would come through for a while then be gone again, and you'd hear rumors about the law, about the mob, about a lot of things. Once someone handed me a picture of someone I had been playing pool against five minutes ago and asked me if I'd seen them. I scrutinized it, handed it back, said no, shrugged. The guy was a good pool player, and I was sorry to see him go because he promised me he'd help me get my double-banks straightened out; mostly I felt bad because I owed him five bucks he'd won off me. And so from those days I dreamed that my Dad was one of those, someone who sinks below the American normalcy radar.
And so as I lay on my back on Aaron's couch watching meaninglessness on television, I rambled a lot about how maybe my life was in danger, that there was a code in my father's note, that there was something I had to do. I went on about that for a long while, and Aaron proved himself my friend by listening and not saying much while the heated frenzy of my brain discharged a thousand dope-fueled scenarios until I finally realized that my voice was just in my own head, and I had fallen asleep.
** ** **
Back in Austin, my joint nearly exhausted and my head in a nice but cobwebby cloud, I threw the roach into the toilet and flushed it. Still no one came in, but in a way I was relieved-I didn't really feel like working any angle right now except getting rid of my headache. A couple more beers, I thought, and then stumble back to Felicia and the South Congress Motel, where twelve hours of sleep and couple of cups of coffee at the Magnolia CafÈ would put me back to functioning. I went back to the bar and sat next to Pete, a harmless old drunk with his Case gimme cap who always quietly downed Bud Lite pounders, three an hour, until he'd finally fall off his stool and trickle out the door.
In Boston, I had gotten on the road just as soon as the guy showed up with my fake ID. It looked good, from Ohio, with the picture he had come over to take the night before. I gave him the five hundred bucks we had agreed on and then got ready to head out. I had drunk a cup of coffee out of the pot I brewed for Aaron before I left, a hazy and warm memory of the year in Missoula we had lived together. I always used to make the pot, drink a cup and leave the rest for him. He never seemed to recover from these bouts as easily as I did. Not that I wasn't feeling a queasy film over me and that there wasn't a knocking just over my right temple, but I felt ready for the road. I gathered up Felicia, cleaned up after her where she had used one of Aaron's plants as a litter box, and took off.
My only clue was the postmark on the envelope I had been sent: Buda, Texas, and so I was on my way there when I left Aaron's. Only I knew it would take a while to get there, and my plan hadn't really settled in. I was celebrating my newfound wealth. I wanted to see how hard money like that is to spend.
The truth is, it's damn hard. I can see if you're out buying new houses, new cars, artwork and toys, but even twenty thousand dollars, the only amount I had taken with me, was hard to spend on the road, eating at hash houses and drinking in roadside bars, occasionally dropping two hundred on a small-town whore when I just didn't feel like sleeping alone. I kept the cash and some travelers' checks under the seat, right next to a little .25 that Aaron had given me as a going away present. He suspected the territory I was riding into. He probably would have come along if it hadn't been for his fear of not being close to his source. I couldn't imagine running out of drugs, but if I did, that would be all right. Everything was all right.
And so my trek to Austin, the nearest city to Buda that seemed like a reasonable base of operations, was long and circuitous, full of binges and hangovers, rundown motels and long stretches of empty highway. I had decided to go to Austin, the nearest city to Buda that seemed remotely interesting. I had heard good things about Austin, but I wasn't interested in jazz clubs or the software industry or quality of living, at least not the quality of living they talked about in Money magazine. I was interested in drugs. It seemed to me that the only place a shadowy man whose own ex-wife won't talk about him could get four hundred thousand spare dollars to send to his son was in the drug business. And besides, even if I didn't find him, the ride could be fun.
My plan was dangerous, probably, stupid at the very least, but I have never had a creative approach to solving problems, so I just went with my first instinct. I would go to bars, pull out a joint in the bathroom and wait for someone to come in. I would then offer to share and see where the conversation went. Most of them took a toke and thanked me. Some took out some of theirs and we both shared. One guy over in the southeast part of town, the barrio, offered to sell, and he was the one I'd been waiting for. I told him I was new in town, was hoping to get set up for personal use, possibly some friends. Probably because I was a gringo in Hispanic bar, he figured at that I was a narc, and no way in hell would he pipe me into his network. But he told me to check out the Showdown, that a lot of business took place in and around there, and guy with ears could find the people he was looking for.
And so I ended up at the Showdown, had been a regular now for six weeks or so, and still my radar had detected nothing unusual, but perhaps my plan had slipped a little, and I was simply no longer a man on a mission but just another barfly ticking off the days. Perhaps I needed it. I had been surprised that I had done any of this so far. But all that had happened was Fat John had come into the john four times and toked up with me on different occasions, and Troy had come in twice and turned me down, but gave me the smile that said he could a tell a story or two about pot. If there was a dealer around the place, he either didn't pee or wouldn't deal to a stranger. I knew some guys wouldn't, but I've found if a dealer finds you doing something, he's going to want to impress by showing you his assortment, showing you what he has to offer, or at least telling you a story about what he could get for you. Dealers know they're worshipped, and they love ever minute of it. It's not just money that makes people risk that kind of prison; it's also the love and respect. A dealer who weighs and doesn't cut and makes sure it's good and gives you samples of new stuff is a treasure to find and keep. I hated leaving Boston, but I knew it was time. If I had stayed in Boston, I would have done something regrettable, like burned out my nose or my liver, but out here on the road all I would do is something stupid. For me, doing something stupid isn't regrettable. It's expected.